Ocean City Today

Community replaces $5K town marlin prize

City gave award for first catch of season for years, until council eliminated it
By Katie Tabeling | Apr 13, 2017
File Photo

(April 14, 2017) Two weeks after the Ocean City Council voted to cease offering prize money to the angler who catches the first white marlin of the season, the sportfishing community and its supporters have rallied to continue the tradition of more than 30 years.

The council voted 5-2 at an April 5 budget session, with Council President Lloyd Martin and Councilman Tony DeLuca dissenting, to cut the $5,000 set aside each year for the prize.

Days later, Bank of Ocean City Vice President Earl Conley announced that the bank, along with other businesses, would continue the custom and offer the $5,000 this year.

“I called up three friends I could rely on, and asked if they would help out. By lunchtime the next day, my phone was blowing up with people saying they’d help in their own way,” Conley said. “It doesn’t surprise me how the community came up to bat. We easily come together in a time of need.”

What also didn’t surprise Conley, who co-chairs the Poor Girl’s Open fishing tournament, is the resort’s stance on the recreational fishing industry.

“When I first heard [about the vote,] I thought once again the town was turning its back in the recreational fishing industry,” he said. Ocean City is the self-designated “White Marlin Capital of The World,” and yet they won’t spend money on this, he added.

“They’ll spend it on free events that locals can’t enjoy because they have 90 days to earn a living. Fishing is a tough life down here, and they take it seriously,” Conley said.

In addition to the Bank of Ocean City, businesses that contributed to the prize are Coastal Fisherman, Sunset Marina, Bahia Marina, Ocean City Fishing Center and Atlantic Tackle.

Bahia Marina owner Shawn Harman, who also organizes Bahia Marina tournaments, including Mako Mania, was one of Conley’s first calls.

“He asked if I would split it, and I suggested that we see if others were interested. It’s a prize for Ocean City,” Harman said. “We all share the load, and everyone has everyone’s back.”

He added that the move was incredibly short-sighted, as the resort has the largest white marlin tournament in August.

“It befuddles me,” he said. “The marlin open brings [thousands] of people here. For $5,000, they get more bang for its buck.”

Coastal Fisherman owner Larry Jock and Ocean City Fishing Center’s Rolfe Gudelsky both agreed that the council’s move felt like an abandonment to the fishing community.

“In the grand scheme of things, the town doesn’t contribute much to the fishing community,” Jock said.

Gudelsky pointed out that the council was misinformed and that the cut would hurt the town in the long run.

“It all comes down to heads in beds. We have a good history of bringing people here and packing restaurants and hotels,” Gudelsky said. “[Councilman] Wayne Hartman said himself that he didn’t know the history behind this award and he made the motion.”

During last week’s budget session, Hartman made the motion to eliminate the funding and said that the award started some time ago as part of the “White Marlin Capital” name.

Franky Pettolina, the Ocean City Marlin Club president, said that the prize money has been around at least since 1983, when he arrived in the resort.

“That time the prize was $1,000, which probably could get you more than with $5,000 in 2017,” he said. “It’s important to fund this because it’s symbolic to the commitment to the industry and keeping fishing tourism here. The guy in a 20-foot boat has the same chance as the guy in a multi-million-dollar boat.”

In addition to the town, the Ocean City Marlin Club awards $5,000 for the first white marlin catch, if the angler is a member of the organization.

He estimated that one day in chasing the first marlin catch generates around $2,000 to Ocean City’s economy, including fuel cost, bait, and food for the crew to celebrate a day on the water.

“I think they [the council] might be uninformed of the importance of the fishing community,” Pettolina said.

Mayor Rick Meehan said that he received a couple dozen emails from people criticizing the council’s decision in the last week. He added that the controversy has revived interest in the prize money, which had lost importance over the decades.

“When you poke the fire, something good comes from it,” he said. “Maybe this was something that didn’t get the recognition it could have gotten. If it gets reinstated, we could bring the winner in and make a presentation out of it.”

Discussions on additional budget requests, including the first catch prize, will continue Friday.

The coalition of businesses, now named the Fishermen United of Ocean City, will meet to discuss how much prize money has been pooled and goals moving forward. Some members will attend the Monday council session to voice their opinions on slashing the marlin money.

In an interview earlier this week, Conley said he would not be among them.

“They [the council] spoke it loud and clear what they wanted,” he said.

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